Literally hours away from the opening ceremonies, the 2012 Olympics are starting to monopolize the web and the airwaves. For many of us, it’s an opportunity to watch sporting events that we wouldn’t normally see and to feel national pride as athletes from many countries compete. For my son, it’s an interruption of his regular programming. For me, it’s a reminder of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
In 1984 the Olympics were held in Los Angeles. At the time, I was living and working approximately 100 miles north of LA near Lake Casitas, which is where the Olympic rowing events were to be held. As an avid horse person, I was also connected to other ‘horse people’ in my area.
Preparing to host an Olympic games is a huge undertaking. Obviously, there are stadiums to build or retrofit, housing for athletes and for visitors, security concerns, the ability of local airports to handle the volume of people and level of security, etc… However, there are also millions of smaller details to be attended to, like finding horses to be used in the Modern Pentathlon.
The modern pentathlon simulates the experience of a 19th century cavalry soldier behind enemy lines: Athletes must ride an unfamiliar horse, fight with a pistol and sword, swim, and run. So, prior to the Olympics, it is someone’s job to scout for horses that can be used in the event. They look for horses with a good temperament and a calm demeanor because, although they are certainly fantastic athletes, Pentathletes are not necessarily fantastic horsemen/horsewomen. Horses must be donated that are eager, dependable and athletic in their own right.
A friend who had two horses chosen asked me if I’d like to be a handler for one of her horses. We received extensive instruction on security measures for ourselves and our horses. We were also given explicit instructions about etiquette during the event. The horses are assigned by random drawing. Athletes are then given 20 minutes to familiarize themselves with their horses. Like any athlete, horses get nervous and excited before an event. This can take many forms, such as not standing still, not listening to the commands of their rider or simply trying to run away. As the person who knows the horses best, the handlers’ first instinct is to help. However, any athlete who accepts assistance from a handler is disqualified and receives no points for their ride. Although ‘our’ athletes did not place very high overall, both horses completed the course without incident, which means that both athletes received scores for their rides. As horse handlers, that’s all we could hope for.
The Modern Pentathlon is not a marquee event; you won’t see or hear much about it in prime time, but like the other events, it’s a true test of athleticism and endurance. For me, it represents my once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be a part of the grandeur that is the Olympics.
Do you have an Olympic dream? How about an Olympic moment in life or business?